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Destroying Angel

Updated on June 27, 2010

Porter Rockwell

One of the seldom talked about members of the early church in Sunday school, is the bodyguard of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is common knowledge that Joseph himself was a large man who wasn't unfamiliar with physical activity. Smith had an unbelievable amount of fortitude even for his time period, but there was a man in particular who surpassed him in physical strength and from what I gather exercised an unhinged willingness to risk life and limb at any cost for a good cause. The two men knew each other from the age of six when young Rockwell protected Smith from a wild boar by killing it with a knife before it had the chance to attack them.

Porter Rockwell was a United States Marshall, I've seen his life compared to that of Wyatt Earp as he was one of the most notable gun slingers of his day, but one of the interesting things about his physical features is his hair. Usually when one looks through old pictures of Mormons they are for the most part clean cut to a certain extent, or if their hair is long it might not be past the shoulders or even the neck, but not Porter's, it's realy long. This leads into a quite interesting story.

One day after escaping a prison, Porter walked over to the Smith home and barged in, uninvited, to a Christmas party. Joseph took a few moments to recognise him but was then compelled to say; “Orrin Porter Rockwell,so long as ye shall remain true and loyal to thy faith, you need fear no enemy. Cut not thy hair and no bullet or blade can harm thee.”

This statement has many times over been compared to that made by an angel who approached the parents of Sampson. Though Porter was far from taking the oath that a Nazarite makes, none the less he did not cut his hair and his life as a gunslinger, though it was constantly in the path of danger, remained in tact for many years.

It is evident that the man's life is arrayed in folk lore and is therefore difficult to distinguish fact or fiction when doing research on him. There did arise a story where he was shot point blank in the chest and the bullet literally bounced off like he was Superman, but it's a little far fetched in my opinion. I do find it notable that the promise of Joseph held true even to the end, as Porter died in his sleep at the age of 65, and they say he died with his boots on his feet.

The man was hardly what one would characterize as a Mormon when compared to the modern day clean cut, name tag wearing, bicycle riding LDS youth of today. He was a fowl mouthed drunk, a gambler, a rabblerouser, and he killed alot, I mean ALOT of people. Such was the case for his jail time. at the time when Mayor Lilburn Boggs instituted the "Extermination order" which enabled anyone in Missouri to kill a Mormon on sight, Porter was accused of an assassination attempt. Porter's infallible defence was simply the fact that Boggs was still alive and he never shot at a man he didn't kill.

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    • Onusonus profile imageAUTHOR

      Onusonus 

      6 years ago from washington

      In 1990 my family was still in California just before Mare Island closed.

    • profile image

      desertswo 

      6 years ago

      Roger that. I've been to Washington many times as I have relatives up that way, but I only traveled to Bremerton once in an official capacity, and that was to inspect the engineering plant in USS Camden (AOE-2) which was completing an overhaul up there in 1990.

    • Onusonus profile imageAUTHOR

      Onusonus 

      6 years ago from washington

      Desertstwo, Thanks for commenting. I myself work for the Navy in Washington State, (perhaps you've toured here before).

      I think that it probably wasn't uncommon for early Mormons to get drunk as they did not implement the health codes for some forty years after they were written.

    • profile image

      desertswo 

      6 years ago

      I'm not a member of LDS. In fact, I'm a devout Roman Catholic. However, as I will tell anyone who will listen that all of my best friends in my 25-year career as a naval officer were active members of the Church. I knew I could trust them with my life, and moreover with the lives of my wife and children. They never let me down.

      Now days I make my way as a university history professor, and it always amazes my students when I inform them matter of factly that the opening of the West as we know it, simply wouldn't have happened without the Mormon Migration and Brigham Young's larger designs on establishing "Deseret." In that light, one of my favorite characters in that long running drama has always been Porter Rockwell. He was "different" to say the least!

      There is one story about the famous British soldier/explorer/spy Sir Richard Burton (not the actor, LOL!!)who sought Porter out for advice on how to make his way from the Valley of the Great Salt Lake to the West Coast. In truth, Burton was probably reconnoitering for a possible retaking of much of the Pacific Coast for Queen and country and was approaching from the rear by way of Mexico and the US Desert Southwest. Regardless, so the story goes, Porter and Burton spent one evening together swapping lies and getting snot slinging drunk!

      As you reported, he was the statistical outlier for Church members in terms of general comportment, but a heck of a man nonetheless! R/M.M. EAGEN, CAPT, USN(Ret)

    • Onusonus profile imageAUTHOR

      Onusonus 

      7 years ago from washington

      No way, people are so soft now a days they can't even fathom the rough and tough guys who lived in the wild west. We've all been wussified into total denial.

    • profile image

      ruffridyer 

      7 years ago from Dayton, ohio

      He killed a boar at the age of six!? Big deal, Davy Crockett killed a bear when he was only three.

      Children in the frontier must have been really tough. Or they had good P.R.

    • Onusonus profile imageAUTHOR

      Onusonus 

      8 years ago from washington

      I hear he was a love hate kind of guy.

    • eovery profile image

      eovery 

      8 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

      Yeah, I understand they say is he earned his way to heaven with a six shooter. Those were different times and different circumstances.

      Keep on hubbing!

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